Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting attracts thousands

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Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Throngs of tourists and revelers packed midtown Manhattan on a warm night and under tight security to watch the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio flipped the switch just before 9 p.m., illuminating the 75-foot tall, 12-plus ton Norway spruce decorated with 50,000 multicolored LED lights.

"I definitely think it's going to get the Christmas spirit going," said Samantha Fettner, a 33-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who had been standing in the front with a group of friends since early afternoon.

The 85th annual ceremony was televised by NBC and included live performances by Brett Eldredge, Leslie Odom Jr., Pentatonix, Train, Harry Connick Jr., and the Radio City Rockettes.

Matt Lauer was set to co-host the event, but the network announced Wednesday that it had terminated him for "inappropriate sexual behavior" with a colleague. Lauer's co-host Savannah Guthrie made the announcement at the top of Wednesday's "Today" show.

Karen Calistra, of Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, said it was her first time seeing the spectacle.

"It's something new, something fun. It's the stuff you see in the movies," said Calistra. "We've always wanted to see the tree lighting. It's a magical time of year."

When asked about Lauer's absence, the 67-year-old said she never really cared for him.

For most of his life, Hendrik Edler, of Germany, has always wanted to see the tree lighting.

"We came here just for the event. It's a dream since I was really young," said Edler, 39.

This year's festivities brought added security measures following the Oct. 31 terror attack in which a man drove a truck onto a bike path near the World Trade Center, killing eight people.

The holiday tradition started in 1931. This year's tree came from State College, Pennsylvania. After the holidays, it will be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.